Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

LIS 9318: The "Slice of Life" Story

Following from my last post, I'm going to be doing another recap of books I had to read for school. LIS 9318 is "Exploring and Understanding Comics in Libraries" and our third week required us to read four titles that were focused on stories that dealt with the everyday. Our required readings were: Contract With God by Will Eisner, Locas (vol. 1) by Jaime Hernandez, Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and Essex County (vol 1-3) by Jeff Lemire. I was unable to locate a copy of Locas, but I managed to read everything else.

The Complete Essex County (2009)
Author: Jeff Lemire
Illustrator: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 512
Series: Essex County vol. 1-3

Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What turns two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the simple-hearted care of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception? Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Lemire pays tribute to his roots with Essex County, an award-winning trilogy of graphic novels set in an imaginary version of his hometown, the eccentric farming community of Essex County, Ontario, Canada. In Essex County, Lemire crafts an intimate study of one community through the years, and a tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation. With the lush, expressive inking of a young artist at the height of his powers, Lemire draws us in and sets us free. This new edition collects the complete, critically-acclaimed trilogy (Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories, and The Country Nurse) in one deluxe volume! Also included are over 40-pages of previously unpublished material, including two new stories.

Before diving into my review/reaction, I want to share a little something with you guys. Did you all know that this book was a finalist for Canada Reads? If you're unfamiliar with CR (which you probably are if you're not Canadian), here's an explanation from their website: "Launched in 2001, Canada Reads is CBC's annual battle of the books, where five Canadian personalities each select a book they want Canadians to read. They defend their chosen title in a series of debates, and the books are eliminated one by one until a winner is declared. The debates air on CBC Radio One, CBC-TV and are livestreamed online through CBC Books." The Complete Essex County was one of the finalists in 2009, but when it came to the debates, it got ripped to shreds by the judges of the debates; they couldn't believe that a comic book (the horror!) would be seriously considered and they refused to acknowledge it as real literature. When the first round of voting rolled around, Essex County was the first title to go. I can't even begin to tell you how much this pisses me off. I don't care that it lost, but I was enraged at how summarily it was dismissed due to its format. I just -- I can't -- ARRGG. Stupid assholes. (Note: I've just read on Wikipedia that Essex County went on to win the "People's Choice" poll of the competition with more votes than all the other books combined. VINDICATION.)


If my above indignation is any indication, I loved this comic. This edition collects all three volumes of the Essex County series, a collection of three separate, but interconnected stories chronicling the lives of three families in Southern Ontario. The experience of living in urban and rural settings is explored and the themes of isolation and loneliness are especially scrutinized, along with the strengths and tribulations of family ties. I wish I could say more, but to talk about everything would say too much and this is one you really need to go into without knowing a lot. I think that it's place in the Canadian Literary Canon is well-deserved (and if it's not now, it will be), and even though it speaks so much to the Canadian experience, I think people from elsewhere will still find a lot of like here (I have a very good friend who is American and he enjoys this title quite bit). If you're looking for a light uplifting read, you won't find it here; these stories are sad and left me completely gutted, but not in an exploitative or manipulative way -- they resonated with me in a way that I haven't felt in a long while.

The artwork initially turned me off, but the more I read it, the more I felt it complemented the story being told and I grew to love it. The stark black and white images fit the themes and the storytelling, and recurring images such as the crow add a gravitas to the story. Lemire is also quite masterful at transitioning from one scene to the next, especially when there's a time-lapse involved. The use of gray colouring for the flashbacks also added another layer to the atmosphere. However, I did have trouble differentiating characters from one another at first (a lot of the characters are related, so many of them resemble one another) and this was very confusing at times. If one takes time with the story and takes care to learn the names and faces, it's easy enough to adjust.

Readers who enjoy intense family sagas will find a lot to enjoy here, and for anyone wanting to read graphic novels that don't involve superheroes should take a gander at this as well. The Complete edition that I've read also includes a bonus short story that's not available anywhere else, and also has some bonus artwork as well, so I recommend reading the collection in this format. I can't recommend this series enough, and I'll certainly be seeking out more of Lemire's work in the future.


Skim (2008)
Author: Mariko Tamaki
Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Pages: 140 (hardcover)
Series: Stand Alone

The time is the early 1990s, the setting a girls' academy in Toronto. Enter "Skim," aka Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth. When her classmate Katie Matthews is dumped by her boyfriend, who then kills himself, the entire school goes into mourning overdrive. It's a weird time to fall in love, but Skim does just that after secret meetings with her neo-hippie English teacher, Ms. Archer. When Ms. Archer abruptly leaves the school, Skim has to cope with her confusion and isolation, as her best friend, Lisa, tries to pull her into "real" life by setting up a hilarious double date for the school's semi-formal. Skim finds an unexpected ally in Katie. Suicide, depression, love, being gay or not, crushes, cliques of popular, manipulative peers — the whole gamut of tortured teen life is explored in this masterful graphic novel by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.

This story, similarily to Essex County, is a sad one. Where it differs though is this is a much more quiet, subdued kind of sadness. Where Essex County spanned generations, this story encompasses the life of a single person in the span of a couple of months. Kimberly, like most teens, is cynical and lonely. Not really having any place to belong, she involves herself in Wiccan culture and finds herself falling in love with her hippie English teacher.

The story sensitively explores grief and I liked how it demonstrates the ways North Americans typically face grief, and how there are "expectations" about how people should grieve. The girls at Skim's school are the physical emobidements of these expectations and they force them on all the students in the school and on the girl who was previously dating the boy who died. I loved how Tamaki dealt with this issue, and dealt with it in a way that was so real, and felt authentic to not only the teen experience, but to how people deal with grief in general.

Of course, Skim's personal journey of finding herself also takes front-and-center and I'm sure almost anyone could relate to her. Anyone who's felt displaced, or like they're experiencing a transitional stage in their lives and are stuck in the limbo between two phases will be able to identify with Kim's experience, even if only marginally. Growing apart from friends, finding our niches in what we like, experiencing first-love; these are all things were likely to experience in our formative years and Tamaki presents them to readers in the same quiet, subdued way that grief transpires the story. It's quiet and avoids melodrama, but it's still very present and has impact. I also want to point out that I love how Kim's sexual orientation was dealt with; instead of making a fanfare about it, or dwelling too much on the fact that she's in love with another woman, the focus remains on the Kim's feelings of first-love, the nervousness and excitement that accompanies it and the crushing blow that's felt when it doesn't work out. It's presented as normal, as it should be, instead of focusing on any kind of "otherness."

The art style is different than your typical graphic novel. It's done in broad brushstrokes and ink, which while not always the most visually appealing (to me) was still original. Even if the style wasn't completely to my taste, there were still things to appreciate, most notably for me, the use of negative space and how it mirrors the sense of emptiness and isolation that Kimberly experiences (I especially enjoyed the winter scenes.)

A Contract With God (1978)
Author: Will Eisner
Illustrator: Will Eisner
Publisher: Kitchen Sink Press
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction
Pages: 196 (trade paperback)
Series: Contract With God Trilogy #1

Go back to where graphic novels all started, on the Bronx street of Dropsie Avenue and A Life Force, in Will Eisner's groundbreaking 1978 creation. The human drama, the psychological insight -- Eisner captures the soul of the city and its troubled inhabitants with pen and ink. The comics medium was altered forever with the publication of this seminal work.

This title is a lot harder for me to review/describe my reaction to. Even though I've never read any of Eisner's work before, I am familiar with his name, and I knew that this title in particular is considered a seminal work in the graphic novel medium. While I certainly appreciated this title and can see why it has cemented Eisner as such an important figure in the world of graphic novels, I didn't connect to it on any emotional level.

Like the other titles I've explored in this post, Contract With God is a down-to-earth look at the lives of people living in an area of New York. Eisner explores the psychology of these people, and often the darker side of humanity is put under a lens. Actually, I was surprised at HOW dark some of these stories were -- the art style was a lot more reminscient of comic strips found in the Sunday Funnies than of the comics I've become used to reading. And when I say dark, I'm talking really heavy stuff here: adultery, pedophilia, lots of sex, cheating and lying -- Eisner holds nothing back. These are bad people living in worse circumstances and nobody comes out unscathed.

As I mentioned, the artstyle reminded me of the sort of thing you would find in serial comic series found in newspapers (and I'm fairly sure that Eisner's The Spirit was published as such, so maybe that's why), which brought with it all kinds of expectations that Eisner obliterated. Eisner is most well-known for exploring different ways the graphic novel format could be utilized, often employing unconventional panel layouts and font placements etc., and this can be seen in this work as well. He often foregoes using panels all together, letting the action of one scene spill into the other, the text bubble of one character overlap on the scene of another, really accenting the hustle and bustle of city life, and the claustrophobia that can accompany it.

Overall, I'm not sure if this would be a good place for people who are new to graphic novels to start, but anyone who is fairly immersed in the format and would like to become more familiar with seminal works should definitely check this out.



books x 4

Latest Month

March 2013

Upcoming Reviews


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow